Squatters Rights in Texas & Adverse Possession Law for 2024

Discovering unwelcome squatters — people occupying an abandoned or unoccupied property — can be a nightmare scenario for Texas landlords. Squatting often leads to messy legal struggles between landlords and “tenants,” further complicated by a slow-moving legal system dependent on evictions to remove unwelcome parties.

Also, as it pertains to laws, squatters rights and adverse possession (the legal mechanism squatters use to claim property) vary wildly from state to state, so it’s essential to know the actions you can and cannot take as a Texas property owner if you want to avoid legal harm.

In this article, we’ll help you understand:

  • Squatters rights in Texas and adverse possession laws
  • How to legally evict squatters
  • Where landlords can find legal help
  • How to prevent future squatting situations
  • How software can help speed up evictions, screen future tenants, and generate new lease agreements

Squatters Rights & Adverse Possession in Texas

When people have nowhere else to go or can’t afford housing, they often move into vacant properties without asking the landlord for permission. These squatters are technically trespassing, but if they intend to occupy the property, they’re no longer trespassers — they’re squatters.

In rare cases, a long-term squatter can legally assume ownership of properties they’ve inhabited after they’ve occupied it for a given time. This legal outcome, while time-consuming and challenging to achieve, is called adverse possession.

Landlords who don’t keep a close eye on their vacant properties are more susceptible to squatters and, as a result, must follow proper eviction protocols to remove them.

How Squatters Can Legally Claim Property Through Adverse Possession

While you might find it alarming that squatters can legally claim property in Texas, actually doing so is a long and complex process that takes at least three years of continuous occupation in conjunction with a number of additional factors we detail below.

According to the Texas Civil Remedies Code, for an occupant to claim property ownership through adverse possession, they must first demonstrate the following:

  • Hostile Occupancy: The squatter must occupy the property without permission from and against the right of the actual owner.
  • Extended Occupancy: The squatter must reside on the property for a continuous period of three, five, or 10 years, depending on the circumstances (see below).
  • Open and Notorious Possession: The squatter’s occupation must be out in the open. Secretive squatting or hiding in properties doesn’t qualify.
  • Exclusive Possession: The squatter must act as the property owner and exclude others from using or co-inhabiting the property.
  • Peaceful Possession: The squatter cannot obtain possession through overt force or threats to the property owner.
  • Payment of Taxes (not always necessary): The squatter may pay property taxes while occupying the property. (Necessary payment of taxes varies from situation to situation, which we’ll explore later.)

If the above requirements for adverse possession are met, a squatter may be eligible to claim a property under one of the following conditions:

  • The squatter must occupy the property with a color of title (an invalid title that appears real) for at least three consecutive years.
  • The squatter must occupy the property, claim it under a duly registered deed, pay all property taxes, and cultivate or enjoy the land for at least five consecutive years.
  • The squatter must occupy the property and improve the land for at least 10 consecutive years. No title or deed is necessary. (This situation only applies to land under 160 acres.)

Note: Requirements for the three-, five-, and 10-year scenarios above are mutually exclusive, meaning squatters only have to meet the conditions listed within their specific timeframe.

Landlord Rights in Regards to Squatters

Landlords can evict squatters in Texas, though they must do so legally. They cannot, however, forcibly remove these “tenants” from the property via self-help evictions and must follow a specific process, which we will review soon.

Squatter Rights & Responsibilities

Though squatters don’t technically have the right to occupy abandoned or unoccupied property, they do have the right to continue occupying it until the landlord legally evicts them.

For better or worse, squatters in Texas can keep squatting until the proper eviction paperwork is served.

How to Evict Squatters in Texas

Though each situation is different, and some squatters may complicate the legal process by providing fake leases or deeds, the eviction laws in Texas are fairly cut-and-dry.

Here are the steps property owners must follow to remove squatters from their property:

  • Step One: Issue a written “Notice to Vacate” document to the squatter. The notice must give squatters at least three days to leave the property, but some landlords may opt for seven- or 10-day notices.
  • Step Two: If the squatter doesn’t leave the property by the end of the issued notice, landlords must file an eviction lawsuit with the courts, where they’ll present their case to a judge.
  • Step Three: If the court rules in the landlord’s favor, the judge will issue a “Writ of Possession,” which authorizes law enforcement to remove squatters after another Notice to Vacate and a 24-hour waiting period, giving them one last chance to leave.

Eviction doesn’t always go smoothly, and court backlogs often delay eviction hearings by weeks or months, so landlords must start the legal process as soon as they learn that a squatter is occupying their property.

Legal Help for Landlords in Texas

If a landlord runs into a particularly difficult-to-navigate situation regarding a squatter on their property, they might be best off seeking legal help to protect themselves in court.

Here are a few resources that might help:

Tips for Preventing Future Squatters

The best remedy for squatters is to prevent them from occupying property in the first place. Here are a few pieces of advice to help keep properties squatter-free:

  • Secure unoccupied properties to discourage break-ins
  • Maintain unoccupied properties and give them a “lived-in” appearance
  • Install security cameras and alarms that will alert you to trespassers before they become squatters
  • Ask neighbors to keep an eye out and alert you to any potential squatters

How TurboTenant Can Help

Texas property owners dealing with squatters need all the help they can get, so TurboTenant teamed up with EZ Evict USA to help its users speed up evictions and regain control of their properties.

Additionally, TurboTenant can help landlords run background checksgenerate rental applications, and create Texas-specific lease agreements to ensure that they fill post-eviction vacancies with well-vetted renters and iron-clad contracts.

Sign up for our free property management platform to see how we can help streamline your real estate experience.

Texas Squatter Rights FAQs

What rights do squatters have in Texas?

Squatters can stay in an abandoned or unoccupied property until they are served a “Notice to Vacate” by the owner. If they ignore the Notice to Vacate, they can continue occupying the property until law enforcement in possession of a Writ of Possession document issued by the Texas State Court gives them another 24-hour Notice to Vacate.

If squatters ignore the final 24-hour Notice to Vacate, they no longer have a right to occupy the property and are subject to physical removal by law enforcement once the 24 hours have passed.

Can police remove squatters in Texas?

Yes, police can remove squatters on behalf of property owners, but only after a Notice to Vacate has been issued and a Writ of Possession has been granted to the property owner through a court hearing.

How long can you squat in a house before it’s yours in Texas?

It depends on the squatter’s situation, but the State of Texas has specific conditions under which squatters can claim properties after three, five, and 10 years.

For more details, refer to the “How Squatters Can Legally Claim Property Through Adverse Possession” section earlier in this article.

What’s the difference between a trespasser and a squatter in Texas?

A trespasser enters and remains on a landowner’s property without permission, generally while the owner or other approved inhabitants occupy the property.

Squatters occupy abandoned or unoccupied properties without permission from the owner but can stay on the premises until a Notice to Vacate is served. Technically, squatters begin as trespassers but can gain control of the land through adverse possession laws.

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